It was a busy day for the Gonzaga men's basketball team. They held a closed-to-the-public (and media) practice at an off-site location, and then came to the FedEx Forum for an open-to-the-public shoot around and press conference. All in preparation for tomorrow's Sweet 16 showdown against North Carolina (the No. 1 seed in the South Regional and the current No. 2 team in the country).
The GU players were having fun during the shoot around. None of the teams really take those seriously. Syracuse's Johnny Flynn put on a show with some outrageous dunks. He had the near empty crowd (there were no more than 300 people in the building) in awe. I saw a couple of Gonzaga players getting frustrated during the shoot around. Matt Bouldin missed four or five shots in a row (three balls from the corner) and said "I can't make anything today!" Steven Gray also appeared to get a little upset with his shooting, but he also looked like he was working at about 50% the whole time.
The Gonzaga locker room was loose, but it wasn't as loose as it was in Portland. The team was watching the replay of the Western Kentucky game (I think it was on CBS College Sports or some other channel) when we were in there. Jeremy Pargo was poking fun at guys as they missed shots or turned the ball over during the replay.
There's been a lot of talk during the tournament about Ty Lawson's toe. The North Carolina point guard hurt it a few weeks back. The injury kept him out of the Tar Heels opening round game against Radford. He returned for the second round game against LSU, scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half. Earlier this week, Lawson said he will play against Gonzaga. BUT, here's the latest:
Lawson did not participate in North Carolina's shoot around today. He was suited up, but just dribbled around near center court the whole time. Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams said the swelling went down, but the toe is still nagging Ty. On a scale of 1-to-10, Williams rates Lawson's toe as a six. He's still considered a "go" for tomorrow.
North Carolina's transition game depends on the health of Lawson. I watched him play last year against Washington State in the Sweet 16. The only player who compares (as far as speed...at least that I've seen in person) is UCLA's Darren Collison. UNC's Danny Green said it is their goal to push the tempo. It's Gonzaga's goal to stop the fast break (every player I talked to today said that transition defense is the key to winning the game). Apparently, Bobby Frasor doesn't know much about the Zags (who also love to run the floor). He told me today that tomorrow's game will be a contrast of styles (I think the teams have very similar games). I think he has Gonzaga confused for somebody else (or he didn't want to tip his hand).
Tip-off is slated for 6:57 (PT) tomorrow. It's a game that can be seen exclusively on KREM 2. We'll have love coverage from Memphis tomorrow at 10 and 11, including highlights and post game reaction.
Just a couple of notes off the hardwood...
We had a chance to venture around Beale Street a little bit last night. We ate some real southern style BBQ (I had the ribs; my photographer Brett had the catfish). It was really good! We also had a chance to catch some live music at one of the 25 (that's just a guess...there might be more...there might be less) restaurant/bars. Beale Street is a pretty cool scene. There are neon lights everywhere and every single place on the strip (which stretches about two or three blocks) has a live band playing. There is music everywhere in this city...at all hours.
I also want to mention how terrific the people are in this city. The customer service has been great (which can't be said for our flight from Minneapolis to Memphis...we had a mean flight attendant)...and a lot of people give you a smile and say hello on the streets.
I'm not much of an Elvis fan, but I really want to at least swing by Graceland. How can you come to Memphis and not see a landmark like that? Hopefully there is enough time (we need a Gonzaga win on Friday to keep us here in Memphis for the weekend).
One final note...
There are no Gonzaga fans here. We found one guy (Zeke Brown) wandering around Beale Street today. That's it! Everyone else in Zags gear was either with the band or is employed by the university. Many of those GU employees guaranteed that people will be coming here tonight or tomorrow. I hope they are right...we saw plenty of people today in Carolina Blue. The Bulldogs will need as many people in the FedEx Forum as possible.
Again, if you have any questions or want to know any other behind-the-scenes stuff...let me know. It's very simple...just leave a comment or question below.